By John T. Schwiebert, ThM
“ . . . and a sword will pierce your own soul also” --Luke 2:35
In Luke’s story of Jesus, the above words are spoken by a wise old man named Simeon to Mary, as he holds the infant Jesus—Mary’s first-born child—in his arms. Luke seems to be offering a clue that Mary will one day suffer deep grief because of the violent death of her offspring.
The piercing of a mother’s soul is something mothers of every age can identify with if they have lost a child to death, or even to debilitating illness, drug abuse, or estrangement from the family.
It is these mothers I want to acknowledge and honor as we approach Mothers’ Day 2016. I want to recognize those mothers who, because their children are dead or disabled, do not have offspring to ply them with cards and gifts on Mothers’ Day
I am thinking today not only of Mary, whose son was crucified, but also Margaret, whose young adult son died of AIDS in our communal household more than 20 years ago. Michael had come to live with us when, because of his terminal illness, he could no longer live alone.
Sadly, Margaret and her husband were alienated from their son, first because they could not accept the fact that he was homosexual, and second because they were experiencing the shame that was associated with AIDS back in the 1990’s. As a result they did not visit him during his illness or even as he lay dying, if they even knew how serious was his condition.
After Michael died his mother, whom we never were able to meet personally, contacted us and thanked us for offering the care that she had not been present to offer. A sword had pierced through her soul, not just because her son was dead, but because she had not made the effort to re-establish a broken relationship before it was too late.
For many years after, we received notes from Margaret every year, on the anniversaries of Michael’s death—her way not only of thanking us again and again, but of acknowledging the pain of her grief that she experienced daily. Sadly hers was the only name on the notes because her husband, Michael’s father, could not find a way to acknowledge or share openly whatever pain he was experiencing in silence.
I have met other mothers too who have carried heavy burdens of deep grief for many years. Like the Mothers of the Disappeared who gather regularly in public squares in Latin American countries to acknowledge their children who were abducted by police and probably killed.
I think also of mothers who have devoted their lives to loving and caring for their children who were chronically disabled because of birth abnormalities or accidental trauma.
These are “tough mothers.” Their suffering has produced endurance and character and hope (See Romans 5:3-4). They deserve our special recognition on the second Sunday in May and everyday as well!